There isn’t a shortage of #yogininspiration #yogaeverydamnday photos across all social networks of lithe, limber women doing every enviable pose imaginable. From the usual handstands and backbends, to gravity-defying arm balances and that rather Exorcist-esque variation of Kala Bhairavasana (this is worth a google), these yoginis make seemingly impossible asanas look easy peasy.
With this deluge of flawless images flooding our feeds (they’re often set against stunning sceneries, too), it’s quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that yoga is aspirational. Or worse, that it’s the skinny girl’s practice.
Quite the contrary, yoga is one of the most accessible disciplines today. You really just need to get yourself on the mat, body curves and love handles included. People begin yoga for different reasons, and it’s quite interesting to discover that when it comes to women who do not necessarily fit the skinny girl mold, they tend to “stumble upon” the practice or get into it half-heartedly, but when they do, well, Hilary Clinton’s words about women empowerment just come to mind: “…we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet.”
I think within every woman, body shape irregardless, is that internal “glass ceiling” that leads us into thinking we may not be fit or strong enough to do what the skinny girl in the Nike/Lululemon commercial is doing with ease. But once you tune out the negative self-talk, get to class (or even follow instructions over on Youtube) and make it through that first practice, you’ll leave feeling a sense of wonder at what your body can apparently do.
“I never EVER thought I would get into yoga,” shares Andrea Tamayo-Oliveros, 33, a marketing consultant and mom to a four-year-old girl. “I was fat and not flexible, and I thought yoga was for skinny vegetarians, gymnasts and ballerinas—you have to be super fit and flexible. I also thought I had to give up meat and sugar and do a lot of meditation and chanting,” she relates.
“I used to think yoga was all about contortionist poses and a lot of meditation—and I found out I was right. Just kidding,” quips Melinda Torre, professional singer for Baihana and The Blue Rats. The 33-year-old, who has been teaching yoga since 2014, is a Barre3 instructor and got into yoga to enhance her knowledge of the former. “Yoga is one of the three pillars of Barre3 so I slowly got to know some yoga poses and the concepts of balancing mind and body and listening to yourself.”
Registered psychologist and family life specialist Michele Alignay, 39, shares she got into the practice to take control of her body. “I’ve always been big-boned, and motherhood made me even bigger. I was also never into any physical activity. Yoga was the only one that had the spark and pull for me to keep at it—and it’s funny because I used to think it was all about meditation, chanting and exotic poses.”
Strong women, strong practices
Beyond their preconceived notions of yoga, the women share similar body types. All curvy, naturally muscular and big-boned, yoga has seeped itself into their daily lives. The surprise and wonder, even after years of consistent practice, is still there.
Shares Andrea, “I love the progress and awareness that comes with constant practice. Yoga has allowed me not just to lose weight but also explore what else my body can do. It’s also helped me become more aware of my body and its limitations.”
“What motivated me is its total effect on me—I feel good about my body. I like the awareness it brought me and the acceptance of my body type,” adds Michele.
Cassie Umali, a 25-year-old events/TV host and national athlete, shares yoga helps in her general fitness and mobility, enabling her to quickly adapt to new forms of movement. Always active and on the go, she confesses her favorite pose to be savasana. “It’s what I look forward to the most. Aside from the fact that it meant the session was almost over and I didn’t have to hold difficult poses anymore, savasana is all about consciously being at peace and positive. I sometimes forget to do this on a daily basis but doing yoga always reminded me that, it’s good to train your brain to think good thoughts. The meditation portion of yoga helped balance out my aggressive state of mind, that I have to psych myself into while playing tackle rugby,” she shares.
For IT Consultant Melissa Fule, 33, her consistent three-year practice really boils down to one basic fact. “Simply put, yoga makes me happy. I love how it makes me feel during and after class. It’s my happy pill, my escape when I feel down,” she says. “Yoga helped develop my flexibility, strength, stamina, and made me trust in what my body can do. The inversions and arm balances helped make me a bit more adventurous—I’m now more open to trying different physical activities because I know my body will be able to support me. I’ve tried trapeze, aerial hoop classes and recently got hooked to indoor wall climbing.”
A practice that involves a lot of bending, yoga has not only enabled these women of every size and shape and persuasion to ease into poses they once deemed inaccessible, but it’s also “bended” their perceptions of what their body can and cannot do. A common consensus: “Have fun and don’t take things too seriously.”
It isn’t, after all, a practice that’s not without its share of funny anecdotes.
Melinda, who is “very top heavy!”, needs to take a modified version of the shoulder stand because “in the full version, my boobs come down around my face. I literally cannot breathe because my breasts are up my nose.”
Melissa, who describes herself as petite yet muscular, shares sometimes some poses are just not within her reach. “I can’t practice urdhva dhanurasana on a chair because my feet don’t touch the floor,” she relates. “A teacher once suggested to place blocks under the feet if you’re short. It was obviously directed at me because my legs were dangling from the chair. I was jokingly offended by his comment but he assured me I wasn’t to blame. It was the floor’s fault for being too far away.”
Some yoginis experience tummy concerns in the middle of practice. “There was one time my teacher told me to tuck my stomach in. I thought to myself, ‘How can I tuck it in more?? It’s really just this big!,’” relates Michele. Andrea used to feel the same way about twists. “I hated it—my tummy would always get in the way!”
Ciara Ledesma, a 32-year-old banker who got into yoga after a particularly indulgent Christmas Eve, shares “one time while trying to do ustrasana (camel pose), I was convulsing like I was possessed because my core could not hold it!” Throughout her now two and a half-year practice, Ciara shares she’s learned to laugh at herself in class.
On a more serious note, she advises, “It really takes a while to do even the most basic poses right, so be patient. And be open-minded. I’ve seen students who are physically fit and yet they also struggle in class. Don’t expect yoga to immediately be easy for you. Take criticism well and show up. It’ll take some time but as long as you’re in the mat every day, things will change and you’ll end up surprising yourself.”